C’s lose late lead, fall to third place in 118-117 loss

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Celtics fall to third place in East after losing late lead in defeat to Jazz originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Celtics should have left Utah with their third straight win of the road trip, but the Jazz mounted a comeback late in the fourth quarter and handed the C’s a 118-117 loss.

The Celtics had a 19-point lead in the first half, and they also led 117-113 with 1:19 remaining in the game. But the Celtics couldn’t hold on, and now they are in third place in the Eastern Conference behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

Jaylen Brown led the Celtics with 25 points, while Lauri Markkanen paced the Jazz with 28.

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The Celtics’ road trip resumes Tuesday night against the Kings in Sacramento. The Kings are the second-place team in the Western Conference and have won eight of their last 10 games.

But before we look ahead to that game, here are three takeaways from Celtics-Jazz.

1) Celtics fall in standings

The Celtics clinched a playoff spot Saturday night as a result of the Miami Heat’s loss to the Chicago Bulls. However, the Celtics’ loss to the Jazz, combined with the 76ers’ win over the Charlotte Hornets earlier in the day, dropped Boston to third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks: 50-20

  2. Philadelphia 76ers: 48-22, 2 GB

  3. Boston Celtics: 49-23, 2 GB

  4. Cleveland Cavaliers: 45-28, 6.5 GB

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The Celtics were all alone in first place just a few weeks ago, but they’ve lost six of their last 11 games. Four of those six losses were decided by four or fewer points.

Boston is now in a tough fight for the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. How important is the No. 2 seed? Getting it would guarantee the Celtics homecourt advantage in at least the first two rounds of the postseason. The No. 3 seed guarantees you homecourt in only the first round.

The Celtics are a difficult team to beat at TD Garden, where they own the league’s second-best home record at 26-9. The C’s finished the 2021-22 regular season strong and earned the No. 2 seed, which gave them homecourt advantage in the first two rounds. They eliminated the Bucks in Round 2 with a Game 7 victory at the Garden. The series could have gone differently if that Game 7 was in Milwaukee.

Luckily for the Celtics, the Sixers have the toughest remaining schedule based on opponent win percentage. Philly still has games left against quality teams such as the Bucks, Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns. But the final 10 games won’t be easy for the Celtics. They have the ninth-toughest remaining schedule, including four road games and two back-to-backs.

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Health should be the top priority for the Celtics for the rest of the regular season, but they still need to try to at least finish ahead of the 76ers for the No. 2 seed.

2) Jazz dominate offensive glass

One area where the Jazz really hurt the Celtics was the offensive glass. Utah had a 17-5 edge in offensive rebounds and scored 20 second-chance points as a result. Walker Kessler had eight offensive rebounds by himself.

The Celtics were missing two of their best rebounders in Robert Williams III and Al Horford, but the Celtics should’ve been prepared for this kind of effort from the Jazz on the boards. Utah entered this game ranked No. 4 in the league in second chance points per game and No. 5 in offensive rebounds per game. The offensive glass has been a huge part of the Jazz’s success this season, so the C’s should have been aware of that and boxed out better than they did.

The Jazz won the rebounding battle 56-40 overall, and their starters outrebounded the Celtics starters 45-21.

Rebounding is so important to winning games, and this is one area where the Celtics need to improve before the playoffs.

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3) Grant Williams finds his groove

It’s no secret March has been a rough month for Williams. He came into Saturday averaging just 5.4 points and shooting 35.3 percent from the floor in seven games. In fact, he scored 16 points in his previous four games combined.

Williams got back into a rhythm against the Jazz. He scored 23 points and shot 7-of-12 from 3-point range, along with four rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes.

Williams caught fire in the fourth quarter when he made three 3-pointers in a 154-second span to increase Boston’s lead to 108-101. He did get stuffed at the rim on the final play of the game, but overall it was a positive performance for him.

The Celtics are going to need Williams to be an effective player in the playoffs. It’s hard to imagine Boston winning four rounds en route to a championship if Williams isn’t a consistent 3-and-D player. His ability to stretch the floor and hit 3-pointers at a 37 to 40 percent rate, in addition to playing quality defense against wing players, makes him a valuable part of the Celtics’ rotation.

Saturday night’s performance was a step in the right direction for Williams as he tries to regain his confidence and shooting touch before the first round of the playoffs begins.

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